Malay Mail Online
Monday July 13, 2015
KUALA LUMPUR, July 13 — Although the allegations of corruption and impropriety against Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his brainchild 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) have been relentless, several regional observers believe the prime minister will likely weather the storm and continue to remain in office as prime minister.
Speaking to American news channel CNBC, the pundits said despite even the latest exposé by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that saw a direct link drawn between Najib and 1MDB’s billions, the embattled prime minister still enjoys immense support and does not face much competition to his position from those in Umno.
“As I see now, the way the investigation has been playing out, it’s playing to form. I think Najib has control over the investigative process,” said William Case, a professor at the Southeast Asia Research Center of the City University of Hong Kong.
“He will remain in office. The investigation panel will report directly to him. In consequence, he will probably be able to survive this,” Case said in CNBC’s talk show Squawk Box.
Case also added that Najib had previously survived many other scandals, although the 1MDB scandal seemed to be “more serious than most”.
The academic’s remark echoed that made by some of Najib’s critics such as DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang who had cast doubt on the impartiality of the special task force currently probing WSJ’s report, noting that its members are civil servants who not only report to the Cabinet but also directly to the prime minister himself – the subject of the investigation.
Case also refuted the claim that Umno is now fractured despite former president Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s insistence for Najib to step down as prime minister, saying the latter still has “rock solid support” from party members.
“If no real linkages are found to the prime minister during investigations, Najib can muddle through but it’s really distracting the country from bigger issues like its economic slowdown,” added Murray Hiebert, a senior fellow at American think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, agreeing with Case.
Case also pointed out that Najib will likely stay as prime minister due to the lack of obvious candidates to replace him from within Umno, as Najib has proved himself “sophisticated” in his handling of domestic and foreign affairs.
“Politically, his image is of course greatly affected but he will be able to survive because either the opposition or those in the party against him don’t have enough members of parliament to topple him,” said Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.
“If the allegations turn out to be true, Najib will have to clarify for what purpose. If they are not true, he will definitely be taking legal action against the WSJ. But he does need to do something more decisive than just denying the allegations for now,” added Oh, who is also a former political secretary to Najib between 2009 and 2011.
In a report last month, US-based daily WSJ, citing documents from Malaysian investigators currently scrutinising the troubled 1MDB’s financials, claimed that a money trail showed that US$700 million (RM2.6 billion) were moved among government agencies, banks and companies before it ended up in Najib’s accounts.
Najib has repeatedly denied taking funds from 1MDB or any other public entity for “personal gain” and his lawyers have since asked the WSJ to state if it is accusing the prime minister of misappropriating funds.
The special task force leading a separate probe on 1MDB said last week that two bank accounts held by Najib in AmBank were already closed long before an investigation was launched against the misappropriation.